Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Moutabal with Iranian 'stone bread'

It's the trendy thing at the moment for chefs to be championing long-lost or neglected ingredients. The Great British Food Revival, currently showing on the BBC, is one of my new favourite programmes. Each week chefs or prominent food lovers like Gregg Wallace, Clarissa Dickson Wright, Michel Roux and the Hairy Bikers discuss a humble British ingredient that is in danger of being outshadowed by sexier foreign imports, or just dying out due to lack of interest: proper artisan bread, cauliflower, rare breed pork, the potato... I find it fascinating, and a very worthwhile endeavour, to try and do something about this sad decline. As someone who cooks a lot, and loves experimenting with new and exciting ingredients, I too have a list of foods that I am determined to reinvent for people; foods that a lot of people claim they don't like, but I believe this is only because they haven't had them cooked properly. Near the top of this list would be the aubergine.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Dogfish tagine

How wonderfully exotic does 'dogfish tagine' sound? I spied some dogfish at the fishmongers the other day. Readers of this blog will know that most of my cooking generally begins with "I saw ___ at the butchers/fishmongers/market the other day", and this incident was no exception. Intrigued by its name and its appearance (it looked a bit like monkfish tail; thick, meaty white fillets with a large bone running through the back), I bought some immediately, with absolutely no idea of what I was going to do with it. I just liked the idea of serving up dogfish.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Fondant fancies

You may remember (but probably won't - I know most of you just look at the pictures, drool a little, then click onto something else) that I sampled nearly the entire range of Billington's sugars a little while ago, and that the result was this utterly divine banana and pecan caramel ice cream. So when the people at Baking Mad came up with some Mother's Day recipes, using said sugar, I figured it would be rude not to have a go, especially as I still have an enormous amount of Billington's products in my storecupboards. It's not as if I need an excuse to bake, really, and the idea of making my own fondant fancies was just too appealing.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Magdalen Arms, Oxford

I've been wanting to go to the Magdalen Arms ever since I saw it reviewed in some of the major newspapers. My weekends aren't complete without the Saturday papers, but every time I read them my life is injected with a modicum of sadness. It's taunting, sitting there reading about some innovative and delightful new culinary establishment, getting all excited about how delicious the carpaccio of tuna or venison loin or rhubarb foam is, scanning to the end of the page, and discovering it's a) in London or b) unaffordable or c) both. Not that Oxford is a million miles from London, but it's not as if I could say "Ooh! That looks nice! I'll hop on the 2 hour bus to London for dinner". I've eventually, on scheduled trips to London, finally made it to a few of these places (Polpo, Bocca di Lupo), but imagine my delight when I saw the name of my own beloved place of residence at the end of a review one day.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Lemon thyme ice cream with orange soufflés

I've decided to get involved with Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Cinzia from Cindystar. This basically entails blogging about using a herb or plant ingredient in cooking. I always think it's rather a nice idea to use a recipe to showcase a single element, particularly where it's used in a way that you might not have considered before. This lemon thyme ice cream does exactly that: highlights the sheer beauty of what I believe is a sadly underrated herb, but in a surprising context: sweet rather than savoury. At the moment I'm rather excited by the potential of herbs in ice cream: I've already tried bay leaf ice cream (brilliant with orchard fruit crumble) and basil ice cream, and I have a (top-secret) list of other ideas I can't wait to try out. I can't resist lemon thyme in my cooking lately. It has an indescribably alluring aroma, with citrussy overtones as the name suggests, but tangy herbal notes like you might find in coriander. I'm always surprised at quite how lemony it tastes. Adding it to a dish results in a burst of freshness, with a wonderful floral backnote.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Seared pigeon with wild mushroom and truffle risotto

I like the combination of game and wild mushrooms; the idea of coupling two things that have probably coexisted quite closely in nature is a rather nice one, and they also taste great together. The earthy mushrooms need something rich and almost sharp to accompany them, which is what you get with lightly cooked, still fairly bloody, pigeon. The contrast between the soft, unctuous starch of risotto and the dense, grainy meat of the bird is excellent. I decided to make this after I spied a pack of pigeon breasts for sale at - of all places - the fishmongers. For some reason they seem to have diversified into game; perhaps Oxonians just aren't piscivorial (yes, I think I've just invented that word) enough to keep them in business. Anyway, I bought the pigeon, and my mind just leapt to wild mushrooms. This was the result.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Rhubarb and orange roulade

I generally think of roulade as either a dessert for deepest winter or brightest summer. It appears at Christmas in its chocolate incarnation, the yule log. In my family it's an integral part of the Christmas dinner: Christmas pudding is far too heavy to follow the excesses of December the twenty-fifth, and is usually saved for Boxing Day, but my mum's chocolate and chestnut yule log is just the thing to counteract all that rich fare. The summer version usually involves some sort of red berry, along with softly whipped cream. I decided it was time to bring the roulade into springtime, using one of my favourite ingredients: early, shocking pink, tart-sweet rhubarb.

Friday, 18 March 2011

My debut as a published food writer

Well, aside from this blog, of course. Click here to read my article for about pigs' cheeks. It's rather exciting seeing your name in print, especially sitting proudly atop a large photo of a pig's face. What more could a girl want?

(Actually, now I think about it, it's not really my debut. I'm rather proud of this article on British food history, or this one on a delicious brand of 'healthy' chocolate called Nibchoc - Oxonians, I believe they sell it at Woodstock Road deli, and I'd recommend it highly.)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Jamie Oliver's "30 minute" fish supper

When Jamie Oliver's latest cookbook, 30 Minute Meals, was published, I have to admit that I didn't have the faintest desire for it to join my rapidly growing collection. I'm suspicious of anything that attempts to put a time limit on cooking: I never trust the guides that some recipe books give you for 'preparation time' or 'cooking time'. Why? Because things like that vary dramatically depending on an array of factors including the organisation of the cook, the skill of the cook, the size of the kitchen, the available kitchen equipment, whether there is a small army of minions around to wash up utensils in between uses, and so on and so forth. I can peel and chop an onion in about thirty seconds, but that's because I cook pretty much every day. I remember cooking with an ex-boyfriend of mine once. I put the pan on the hob with some oil in and turned on the heat, asking him to chop the onion to go in the pan. In the end, I had to turn off the pan because the oil had got too hot while I waited for him to painstakingly peel said onion and slice it into meticulously even pieces.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Clementine and chocolate cake

This recipe exists in several cookbooks, but is probably best known as Nigella Lawson's clementine cake. It's slightly unusual in that it uses the whole citrus fruit: you boil clementines or oranges until soft (a couple of hours or so), then purée them in a blender, add eggs, ground almonds, sugar and baking powder, and bake. It's really that simple. It's a great recipe for those who can't eat gluten, too, because there's no flour in it. The large amount of ground almonds gives an incredibly moist texture to the cake, and there's a depth of orange flavour that you wouldn't obtain from just using the zest or juice.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Raw salmon, avocado and persimmon salad

The persimmon, or sharon fruit, is a strange creature. Every time anyone comes round and spies them in my fruit bowl (I say bowl...I have three fruit bowls, such is my addiction to this most wonderful of food groups), they ask what they are, and then without fail respond to my reply with "Oh. They look like orange tomatoes". They are, of course, correct: the sharon fruit does resemble an orange tomato. In fact, its texture is rather tomato-like: the centre, when ripe, has that soft, jelly-like consistency that you find within very ripe tomatoes. The skin is tougher and more grainy, though. It's hard to describe their flavour, but it has hints of peach and mango. I'd probably say it is closest in likeness to a papaya. They're not as tart as a lot of fruit, and are oddly satisfying to eat, as the crunch of the skin gives way to the jelloid centre. I normally just eat them whole, but having spied an interesting-looking recipe thought I'd have a go at pairing them with more savoury flavours. I can't really say I "cooked with" them for the first time, as this recipe involves no actual cooking. Still, it's a bit of a taste sensation and one I was pleasantly surprised by.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Spaghetti with razor clams

The first time I ate these rather space-age-looking shellfish was overlooking a marina in La Rochelle. We were lunching at a 'seafood shack', one of several small huts by the water that served fresh seafood, simply cooked. There was no menu, just a chalkboard over the serving counter with the names of various forms of fish and shellfish. We ordered most of the things on offer, sat on plastic tables with paper napkins, and devoured an array of delicious fruits de mer. I remember mussels, steamed in a foil parcel with white wine, butter and herbs, grilled sardines, fried squid rings, and a big platter of oysters with lemon. I also remember my first razor clam: I'd seen them at the fishmongers before, but had never bought them because I had no idea what to do with them. They were soft and slightly salty, like very delicate mussel meat. When I found a tasty-looking recipe in one of my new cookbooks recently, I decided to have a go at cooking them myself.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Seared venison, kumquat compote, beetroot and savoy cabbage

"The venison first shall be the lord o' the feast; To him the other two shall minister" ~ Shakespeare, Cymbeline

Sometimes you can't beat a good piece of red meat, seared in a blisteringly hot pan on the outside until it scorches, left to rest for a few minutes and then sliced open to reveal a perfectly pink interior glistening with moisture. Even better when the red meat in question is one that is good for you, amidst all the headlines about red meat being linked to bowel cancer. Venison is I suppose what you would call red meat (though actually, it's almost more of a very dark purple), but it is low in saturated fat, high in iron and vitamins, and very low in cholesterol. What's more, it has the succulence of (beef) fillet steak but rather more flavour. There's also the notion of grandeur about it: 'venison' to me conjures up images of grand Tudor feasts, servants carrying home the spoils of one of Henry VIII's (pre-leg ulcer) hunting trips, huge deer carcasses draped over their shoulders.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Lemon crêpes with Earl Grey ice cream

As if I need an assigned day of the year to give me an excuse to make pancakes. Those of you who are regular followers of my culinary endeavours will know that I rarely let a weekend pass without celebrating that period of the day between 11am and 1pm more commonly known as "brunch time". I'm a big fan of experimenting with the humble pancake in all its shapes and forms, but for pancake day you can't beat the traditional French crêpe. Wafer thin and delicate, its pale surface mottled with brown spots of heat from the pan, it demands to be filled with something delicious. The classic lemon and sugar combination is hard to beat, but I thought I'd add a twist to it with some home-made ice cream. I've been wanting to try out Earl Grey tea as an ice cream flavour before, and given the affinity between Earl Grey and lemon, it seemed only natural to pair it with these pancakes. My original idea was a lemon tart, but I love the contrast of something hot with cold ice cream, and pancakes are a happy medium - not so hot that the ice cream melts instantly (I hate melted ice cream), but warm enough to provide a pleasing difference in temperature.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Thai rabbit curry

When I told my mum about this, she said "Poor poor Mr Wabs". I'm sure she'll be mortified when she reads this and discovers that I have now revealed to the world her fond nickname for our pet rabbit. I wanted to call him 'Bramble', but Mr Wabs came about and the name stuck. My dad maintains that he was actually a wild rabbit, and I have to say he did show a certain propensity towards feral behaviour at times. We used to let him loose in the kitchen and like a cat he'd come and sit on your lap and let you stroke him - when he wasn't chewing through the oven cable or attempting to copulate with a stuffed toy rabbit that we bought him for 'company'. I still have fond memories of the dear little creature, but I also have an irresistible attraction towards cooking with slightly more unusual ingredients, and unfortunately the latter usually wins. Not that rabbit is a particularly unusual ingredient: they eat it all the time in Europe, where the rabbit is thought of more as food than as furry plaything. Here, however, a lot of people share my mother's horror at the notion of becoming a literal bunny-boiler. 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Red gurnard and mussels with tomato, orange and olive risotto

I always get a bit excited upon discovering a brilliant new ingredient. The first time I opened a bottle of orange blossom water in Marrakech and inhaled deeply marked the start of a long love affair with its mysterious floral notes; I put it in everything from couscous to smoothies and the scent of it never fails to remind me of a day in the sun strolling past groves of orange flowers in Morocco. Similarly, truffle oil: just a drizzle gives pasta and potatoes a hugely addictive savoury flavour, and combined with parmesan it forms something almost sinfully delicious. Another favourite is the quince, which I cook in many different ways, both sweet and savoury, and which captivated me the first time I tried it (I believe it was in a lamb tagine). New to the list is red gurnard, a fish I'd never tried before but whose amazing appearance caught my attention at the fishmongers' the other day, and whose amazing taste and texture has been on my mind ever since.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Vanilla French toast with roasted rhubarb

Pancake day is fast approaching, and thus the newspapers and food magazines are full of various sweet and savoury recipes for these glorious mixtures of milk, eggs and flour. So, naturally, I have decided to go against the trend and provide you with an alternative brunch recipe. And what a wonderful alternative it is. Amazing how some of the most frugal dishes - often characterised by their attempt to salvage old bread - can be some of the most delicious. In this case, day old bread is soaked in a mixture of eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar, then pan-fried in butter. The result is a hugely satisfying doughy texture with a bit of crunch on the outside; so much richer than normal toast. This soothing blanket of carbohydrate is just right to team with something sharp and palate-awakening. In this case, roasted rhubarb, because I can't get enough of the stuff, and it is just beautiful.

Friday, 4 March 2011

"Rotted bovine lactation?"

I can say with some confidence that, for most students, life is too short to make your own cheese. However, as I'm sure you've surmised from a) the existence of this blog and b) the fact that I post on it daily at the moment and c) most of the things I cook are slightly more labour-intensive and time-consuming than beans on toast, I am not 'most students', when it comes to the kitchen. (You could also surmise several other things, namely that I spend my time cooking in order to reassure my desperately insecure self, faced with the nightmare-inducing fear of entering the real world after a life locked in the musty closet of academia, that there is at least one thing I am able to achieve in this world of pain and constant rejection). I do not set myself apart from the general student body in a smug, self-satisfied kind of way: sometimes I wish that I could spend a whole day working on my degree without having to get up every few minutes to check the infusion progress of an ice cream base, or turn giant pieces of hare carcass over in its marinade, or knead some bread to springy, elastic perfection. But I accepted long ago that food will always interest me far more than work. People talk about finding a work-life balance: I find a work-food balance. One fine day last week when the balance swung precariously in favour of food, I decided to make my own cheese.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Home-made pizza

I've ranted about this elsewhere on this blog, but I'll say it again: I hate chain pizza restaurants. The main reason I hate them is for their disgusting stinginess when it comes to pizza toppings. When you're paying over a tenner for what is essentially a slice of bread with some cheese and tomato on top, the least the restaurant could do is be generous with ingredients that cost them a few pennies. But no, every time I am disappointed, presented with a measly slab of dough garnished with a couple of token vegetables or pieces of chicken. The leek, roasted veg and blue cheese pizza I had in a chain restaurant a while back springs to mind: three slices of frazzled, dried-up leek that resembled potpourri, a few slices of red pepper that tasted raw, and a couple of dollops of blue cheese in the middle of the pizza. The rest was a vast expanse of unadulterated tomato, a desert of sauce where no item of veg had ever gone before. As I picked at the bland item of food in question, I calculated the probable mark-up of this pizza; it must have been around 1000%. Depressing.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Lime, ginger and lychee cheesecakes

Yet another installment of my quest to find more recipes that work with lychees, and make up for the relatively little attention that has been paid to cooking with this wonderful fruit. It seems right to pair them with familiar exotic and tropical flavours, as I did with the lychee and coconut panna cotta a week or so ago, so I went for a lime cheesecake, perched quiveringly atop a crumbly ginger and coconut base, and garnished with slivers of lychee.

Pig's cheeks braised in cider with apples and celeriac mash

If the title puts you off instantly, I beg you to persevere. For a start, pork belly has become a widely accepted gastropub staple all over this country, yet a few years ago most of us would have started in horror at the notion of consuming the gastric organ of a pig. Similarly, lamb shanks - you're basically eating the knees of a cute little baby sheep. Steak and kidney pie trips off the tongue so nicely that few people actually dwell on the fact that it contains the biological systems that filter bovine urine. So why should pig's cheeks make us recoil in horror? Perhaps because there's something just fundamentally odd about eating an animal's face. I admit, when I went to the butchers and asked for pig's cheeks, I wasn't exactly expecting him to pick up a pig's head, intact, from his display, whip out a sharp knife and slice off half its face. Yet he did, and it didn't spoil my appetite at all. Conversely, I fully believe in knowing exactly where your meat comes from, exactly what slicing and dicing has to be done to get it to you, and cooking it in a way that appreciates that effort and sacrifice, and makes the most of it. This recipe is exactly that, and I hope at least one person out there will try it, simply because it is amazing how something so visceral-sounding can transform into something so utterly delicious.